Last weekend my family came for a visit. I have five nieces and nephews—all under the age of seven—so family visits incite as much joy as they do utter exhaustion and chaos. They also provide me with a lot of subjects for study: family interactions, child development, and the basic tenets of humanity (or how babies, technically, are different from dogs). This weekend, as the happily unmarried and blissfully childless aunt, naturally I spent the whole time observing and internally critiquing my siblings’ parenting skills.
While the intricacies of those critiques can be petty, one thing I noticed was the way in which parents shape the stories of their children’s lives. My twin nieces just reached the one-year mark on wobbly, bowed out legs, and already they have their own stories. MJ is the quiet observer, she likes to sit and watch, take the world in with her big, round eyes; Ceci is a little gymnast, crawling and climbing and terrorizing whatever she can find (including the cat’s litter box—blech!). MJ is calm and careful; she likes music and dancing. Ceci is rough and strong, a tomboy all the way.
I struggled with this deterministic characterization all weekend. It’s so easy, and as a writer it’s rather fun, to categorize and characterize and compare, to imagine what all these little beings will be when they become complex and experienced adults. At the same time, I recognized how tenuous the role of parent can be. Parents are the keepers of their children’s stories until they are old enough to take control themselves, but at the same time there is a danger in being the story keeper, in forcing the character, in placing too many expectations and in so doing inviting the equivalent limitations. When you consistently compliment only a child’s skills in math or running, you are also, in a way, telling them they are not good at other things like music or dance; your ideas and personal preferences get transferred to your child and their story becomes narrowed.
In her wonderful treatise on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott has a chapter on character in which she discusses the importance of knowing your characters:
“…each of your characters has an emotional acre that they tend, or don’t tend, in certain specific ways. One of the things you want to discover as you start out is what each person’s acre looks like. What is the person growing, and what sort of shape is the land in?” (Lamott 45).
She stresses the importance of a fully fleshed out character, even if not all of that information, not all of the things growing in the character’s emotional acre, make it into the book or the story or the poem. By having a complete physical and emotional picture of your character in your mind, you are one step closer to having a more realistic and compelling character on the page.
However, just as I, the completely unqualified crazy aunt, am concerned about the effects of over characterization, so too is Lamott. She ends her chapter on character with a complete and cautionary reversal:
“Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple” (Lamott 53).
Characters, like children, are meant to surprise; they are meant to disappoint, to astonish. Sometimes I look back on the writing I’ve done and wonder: Are all of my characters the same? Where is my diversity in personality? It’s so easy, in attempting to know are characters, in trying so hard to make them come alive and feel real, to become an overbearing parent of a writer. But as writers, we are not creating miniature versions of ourselves, we are raising our own fictitious children, and like parents, we must find the perfect balance between guiding, shaping, directing and stepping back, watching, and listening. We can imagine and cultivate our character’s emotional acres, but at some point we must be willing to let them grow and see what happens.
Does anyone else get annoyed when Word gives you the little green underline and says “fragment, consider revising”? I sure do, because sometimes I talk a long time to craft a sentence that I think is really good, and after I admire it for about one second, that green line shows up and I feel lost. Maybe Word just doesn’t understand me. I’d like to think that.
In reality, it is probably a good thing to have fragments pointed out to us as we write. When our internal editor has not caught up with our writing, it can be (grudgingly) helpful to have at least something to make us second guess our writing.
Now, as a reader, I think that I can tell when a fragment is used properly, and when it is misused. You might ask, how can a fragment ever be used properly if all they do is break every grammar rule in the book? If a writer unintentionally uses a fragment in his writing, then it’s most likely a mistake. But, I think that in certain circumstances, a fragment can be used to create a dramatic jilt or a quick end to something. When used artfully (and sparingly), I think that they can really add a lot to a text.
There is nothing worse than sitting down to read something and feeling like you are hitting a new wall every two sentences. Flow is the key to a successful story, and nothing halts it like choppy sentences. It is something that I find extremely frustrating as a reader, and I’m sure I am not alone on this. It’s like driving down a long road with stop lights every 100 feet that turn red right as you get up to them; the reader needs to gain momentum to get into the story, and having to stop at every red-lighted fragment does not make for a smooth ride or read.
There are other ways to create drama in your writing than just randomly throwing punctuation around. Do not rely too much on the period, but use your words to create your desired effect. Plus, there are so many more punctuation marks that are just waiting eagerly to show what they can do. Add variety in sentence length and punctuation, mix it up for your readers, make their reading experience interesting without being jarring. Make it seamless.
Choose your fragment use wisely, my writing friend, because they can make or break you text.
Writer’s block is always going to be a problem. At some point you bump up against a wall and sometimes you just need to break it. So how do you get there? Here are some ideas:
1. Keeping a journal is a great way to record ideas as they come to you. Sometimes a dream journal can provide just enough inspiration to create a story or generate a run of ideas. Journals can be small enough to carry with you or something that sits on your bedside table. These pages will become a run of ideas to come back to later when writer’s block pops up again.
2. Sometimes a prompt or writing group can provide just enough motivation to get words on a page. Both of these options provide an expectation that work will be generated. Whether or not this work is quality or used later is not the issue. Simply starting the process might be all you need to get back on track. Taking five minutes to focus on a prompt or write in a group of people provides valuable kick-start time.
3. Some authors find that music provides enough distraction to block out background noise, but still lets them focus. Try the soundtrack to a movie or a videogame. These soundtracks are designed to keep you focused while providing background noise. Sometimes music can be the change of pace that gets words on a page.
4. A change of scene is another great way to get your head in the right place to write. We all have places we naturally focus and part of that is due to how our brain associates activities with that place. For instance, reading in bed can cause your brain to associate the bed with work, which might make people have trouble falling asleep. If your desk is usually associated with work, you might find it a little too stressful or put too much pressure on yourself to produce work. Try changing venues. Writing outdoors or in a café might help your brain settle into the right place to get something done.
In the end it comes down to “butt in seat, laptop at hand.” Put the time in with your butt in a chair and a laptop opened up to a blank page. The only way to get writing is to start writing. Sometimes this way takes the longest to get started. You only have your own thoughts and the words you can bang out through the keyboard, but you have to push on. You can’t edit a blank page until you put something on it.
A word to aspiring writers: readers read for the ending. I know that sounds silly, but it is so true. It is important to have character development and plot building, but the ending can make or break the entire story. It can make the reader feel joy, sadness, triumphant, or even a little smarter, but it should do just that: make them feel something. I know that the author has succeeded in this goal when I finish a book with a wide eyed expression, a smile on my face, or even tears in my eyes. This is what every author wants to accomplish, and I believe that a well-crafted ending is the key.
I recently finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With the cultural vampire craze, I figured it would be interesting to see where it all started. I thought the book was fantastic, until I got to the end. I had to purposely put the book down at night because it freaked me out, I was on the edge of my seat in suspense, and I was curious as to how and why this character had become such an icon of horror in pop culture. As I was nearing the end, the action was ramping up, and I assumed I was about to witness the ultimate showdown between good and evil, Van Helsing and Dracula (exciting, right?!), but no. Out of about a 350 page story, the ending took two of those pages. It was EXCITING, EXCITING, EXCITING…badum-bum, the end. What?! NO! The ending was what I had expected, but it was lack-luster at best!
In an ending, we instinctively root for the good guy, the underdog, to win against an uncommon foe. If the hero is killed and evil triumphs, what’s the point of having gone through the whole story? Think of your favorite story. What is the best part of it? I will bet that it is the ending when the hero beats the villain, the guy gets the girl, or when the motley crew of unlikely heroes band together to save the day. Even if the ending is sad or unexpected, it can still be good: Nicholas Sparks, anyone?
A “good ending” may be hard to actually define, but as a reader, I just seem to know when it’s right: the ending fits the theme of the book. I can think of two popular examples off the top of my head: Harry Potter and 1984. In the Harry Potter series, though the ending is an emotional roller coaster, it fits with the overall theme of the books: a young and unlikely hero is marked as the only one who can defeat the most evil of enemies. I will not go into any further details or ruin the ending, because I love people too much to do such a thing, but for those who have read it, you will agree with me.
Now, 1984 presents a whole different beast. The ending is shocking. If ever there was a story that I was expecting to end one way that did not, it was this one. Though the whole book seeks to serve as a public service announcement for the world to wake up to what our future could quite possibly turn into, I still wanted good to ultimately triumph. It does not. He does not. In this case, I did not feel that comforting sense of closure that comes when finishing a story that wraps itself up well. I am sure there are debates as to whether 1984 has an appropriate ending for its general message, but I was left almost disoriented with the abrupt and surprising end. It stands out in my memory for this reason.
Dear writers, I am a firm believer in the power of a good ending to make or break the entire story.
You must take your time to craft the ending, because the readers can tell if it is hurried, or even if you do not know how to end it and drag it out for three extra chapters. Endings can be tricky, and I give major kudos to those writers who can leave readers feeling any sort of emotion at the end. The feeling of “well, I guess that’s over” is not one that a writer wants to elicit from their reader.
Try writing a basic ending for your plot line and then writing the events of the story that will lead up to it, which obviously can be changed and molded as new ideas form. I have tried this when brainstorming story ideas and it is almost like running a race: you have a goal and you know where the finish line is, now you just have to do the work to get there.
Write a Novel This November! NaNoWriMo 2015: What Is It, and How Do I Do It?
You probably want to write a novel. Most people do. For some people, it’s something to check off the bucket list. For others, it’s a life-long dream. Some people aspire to be a published novelist, while others simply want to write a book, even if it’s just for themselves. Regardless of what your specific dream entails, writing a novel is an incredibly daunting task. Fortunately, Chris Baty founded NaNoWriMo in 1999, thereby turning this impossible fantasy into an achievable task.
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual, month-long event that takes place every November, and it is the catalyst that generates full-length novels from both new and experienced authors each year. The goal is to write 50,000 words in November. You open your blank document and begin on November 1, and on the thirtieth by 11:59pm, you are a novelist. To participate, all you have to do is set up a free account at nanowrimo.org, and then announce your new novel! NaNo prep is already happening on the website: pep talks, forums, advice, etc. The NaNo community is preparing for the upcoming month-long writing extravaganza. To win NaNoWriMo, all you have to do is write 50,000 words. Everyone who does this is declared a winner, and you get a fancy virtual badge!
Think you can’t possibly write 50,000 words in thirty days? Don’t worry! Several tools exist to help you conquer this seemingly impossible-to-climb mountain. The first is the website itself. It has a handy tracker that tells you where your word count should be each day in order to stay on track. You enter your current word count, and you get to see the graph reflect the work you’ve done and the progress you’ve made, which is extremely encouraging and satisfying. There are forums on the website in which you can talk with other writers and inspire each other and cheer each other on. Need help figuring out the perfect surname for your protagonist? Feeling overwhelmed? Need help with some research? Running out of steam? The people on the forums are happy to help with all of this and more. It’s an extremely supportive and motivating community of writers, and it’s an invaluable source for your NaNo experience.
If 50,000 words still seems out of reach to you, keep in mind that it translates to only 1,667 words a day. That is totally manageable! You can do that, I promise! Here are some sources that can get you pumping out those words:
I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times, and I won each time. Here is the best piece of advice I can give: don’t think; just write. NaNoWriMo is not about producing a polished and perfect work of literature. It’s about writing the damn book. The goal is to get the first draft done, and the first draft is the hardest part. As Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” You don’t have a story until you write it. Now is your chance to write it. Do not waste time trying to make it as beautiful and perfect as possible. You should not do a single revision during this month. Do not go back to the words you’ve already written at all. Only move forward. If you do this, you’ll have a first draft of your book by the end of the month, and a first draft is a physical thing with which you can work. After November, you can begin your revisions. At this point, you’ll have achieved an amazing accomplishment, and you’ll be well on your way to completed manuscript.
Good luck, and happy writing!
I can understand why people are hesitant to write poems.
Poetry can be uncomfortable. You pry yourself open, you scoop out what you find, and you dump it onto a blank page. You do all of this just so you can read it; so you can potentially understand the stuff that’s been festering in the back of your mind—in the deepest reaches of your gut. Sometimes you even let other people read the stuff, which is just plain terrifying.
Poetry is discouraging. It’s disheartening when the right words won’t come. Especially when poets like Frost, Whitman, Collins, Pound, and Stevens (the list goes on) make the whole poetry thing seem so effortless, so natural. It makes your efforts feel useless, makes you feel inept, and makes the whole ordeal seem like nothing but a grand waste of time.
Most of all, poetry can be embarrassing. It’s personal. It’s a verbal manifestation of all the crude, coarse, natural, and organic roughness that we’re not sure we’re supposed to verbalize at all. And when your poem is finally done and you re-read it from start to finish, you can wind up gagging on your own sentimentality, nauseated by your own nostalgia, or disgusted by your self-indulgence. Really, how audacious to think that you or something that happened to you is worthy of becoming a poem?
The key is to let all of this go. Just write the thing.
A passage from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest comes to mind. He describes being human as being “unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” So the point here is to put all of that aside. Just try it. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find as you write your poem.
You’ll get to know yourself better. We think at an incredibly rapid rate. We process borderline unquantifiable amounts of information on a daily basis. We have a thought, we move on, we forget it. When you write a poem, you’re forced to slow way, way down. You’ll ask more questions about yourself, about your experience living in this world. You’ll ask things like, “is there a better word I can use here?” or “how can I really capture what I’m feeling.” If you’re writing of memories, you’ll have no choice but to wrack your brain, stroke your chin, and knit your brow to bring yourself back to the precise moment you’re writing about—be it two weeks ago or two decades. You’ll be shocked at the things you’ve had catalogued back there. And you’ll be amazed at how much more vivid they become when you try to express them.
You’ll properly deal with the things that consume you. Lawrence Durrell wrote of women,
“There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.” I find the third option applies to all things. All suffering, all happiness, any emotion can be turned into literature. Of anguish, write until you’ve nothing left to say, and more often than not, you’ll have conquered your anguish. Of happiness, write until you’ve nothing left to say, and you’ll have preserved your happiness to look back on fondly when memory alone is no longer sufficient. Only poetry can remind you of the way a cool sea breeze blew through your hair on a September evening, how the sting of salt stung your eyes.
To end on a somewhat sentimentally and cheesy note (but remember, we’re all “unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic”), poetry will create for you a portal to the places you’ve been. You’ll read your old poems and be reminded—in the most visceral ways—where you were, what you felt, and how far you’ve come since then.
I was barely old enough to read the first time someone tossed “don’t judge a book by its cover” into my arsenal of clichés. Although well intentioned, the saying actually has little applicability to the book industry because books are and will continue to be judged by the quality of their cover art. My roommates are vocal supporters of judging books exclusively on exterior value, and after two years together, I finally decided to find out why. After a lengthy discussion, they pinpointed four structural components that make or break their reading material.
Page count means different things to different readers. Fans of epic fantasy won’t be deterred by a book that counts 900 pages, but someone looking for a quick read won’t want to wrestle with more than 300. Although Fury was clear that people should choose based on their own needs and lifestyles, she champions epic fantasy, textbooks, and even atlases. Apparently, larger books make better nap pads.
Used books have a place in the hearts of bookworms. A worn book is a loved book. Few would gravitate exclusively toward books with broken bindings, but Damon was adamant that the bindings of his favorite ink and paper companions be broken. He wouldn’t elaborate, but, like Fury, I suspect he prefers sleeping on his books to reading them.
Hardcover vs. Paperback
Have you ever tried to rub your face against the corner of a paperback book? I doubt it, so trust Damon and Durza on this one. Hardcover is the only option.
All books are capable of being shelved in a respectable manner, but according to Damon, you really need a healthy combination of size and style to create an acceptable arrangement that offers enough space for a feline book nook.
Although they made some fair points and will undoubtedly continue to disagree with me, my roommates pay far too much attention to a book’s cover. With time and effort, I may be able to convince them to join those of us who care more about the words on a book’s page than the pages themselves.
Books have always been my favorite accessories. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t buried in their pages. “She’s going to be a writer,” my mom would tell dinner guests as I shook breadcrumbs out of my book. I never really thought about doing anything else with my life. It seemed like it had been decided so many years ago. I would be a writer. I fought my instincts all the way through my second year of journalism in college before I finally ran out of gas and admitted my biggest fear: I didn’t want to be a writer.
The ensuing identity crisis was turbulent. In freeing myself from the race to create the “next Great American novel,” I felt as though I might have lost my chance to create anything. It’s difficult to be part of a species obsessed with creation when you don’t feel a desire to add to its library, but I’ve learned a lot about my definition of creativity over the last few years. Here are five things every supporting player in the book industry should remember.
1.) Being an enthusiastic audience member is just as important as writing the play, scoring the film, or designing the set.
Addressing fans at the final Harry Potter film premiere, J.K. Rowling said, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” The audience's role is just as important as the role of the writer or the performer. The ability to absorb a new idea or concept is creativity in its rawest form. Just because you didn’t create the words on the page does not mean you’re a passive consumer without value or creative abilities.
2.) Love things with an unapologetic enthusiasm.
When you’re not at peace with your role in life, it can be difficult to enjoy others’ artistic efforts. The books, shows, and art you used to love might suddenly trigger an irritable response. Don’t let your perception of what you think you should do limit who you are. Inspiration is everywhere. Absorb new ideas. Explore new environments. Be who you are in this moment. Love things enthusiastically and unapologetically without forcing yourself to contribute an unnecessary admission fee.
3.) Don’t confuse creation with affirmation.
I get it. It’s difficult to be surrounded by successful writers, writers/editors, designers, and photographers if you’re struggling with your creative identity. But they will be the first people to tell you that a need for positive affirmation does nothing to drive their creative impulses. Their need to create is driven by curiosity and a love for the creative process, not by a positive reception. Just because you don’t thrive on that creative process doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer. Embrace what makes you different.
4.) Cut yourself some slack.
Life isn’t about overcoming obstacles that block the path to who you think you should be. Life is about exploring different abilities and letting yourself be what feels right to you. Be the first person in line to cut yourself some slack.
5.) Don’t be afraid to be a human bookend.
There’s a reason we have marketing and publicity departments. There’s a reason we have booksellers and librarians. Not everyone wants to be the next John Green. I’ve learned to embrace my supporting role in this industry. I am a proud human bookend. Now it’s your turn.
While my last post was about claiming the title “writer,” I do have to admit that I've been suffering from a rather long stint of writer's block. In other words, I have not been writing very much at all. I write here and there. Jot things down and never return to give them my full attention. Obviously, this is a common thing that happens and everybody has his or her own remedy. There's whole books on it for god's sake. I'm not going to say a bunch of stuff that everyone already knows. I'm just going to talk about one thing that I realized the other night after attending a lovely poetry reading.
Attending readings and open mics is one of the most inspirational motivators to get me to put pen to paper and I would argue that this is true for many people.
I get so consumed with being alone when I write. I read and read and stare at blank pages in my journal, looking for something inside me to spill out. Instead, I just get frustrated and read more or watch Netflix. Sometimes I won't even let myself go out because I didn't do the writing I had set out to do that day.
When I stop punishing myself for not writing and I decide to go to a poetry reading or an open mic or a book launch, I always end up writing in my journal on the way home. Sometimes I even pull it out in the middle of the reading to jot down a stray thought. I think there are lots of reasons for this. Firstly, it's important to forget about your own writing for a while. Secondly, it's also important to be out in a community of writers who are sharing their work with other writers and readers. I think just the energy of this can help knock a few things loose in your brain – get ideas to settle down and want to come out for a change.
Most importantly, I think hearing writers read their own work aloud can be engaging and empowering beyond reading it for yourself. This is especially true with poetry. I find myself getting lost in just the voice – sometimes, even if I don't know exactly what it “means,” I can hear what the poet wants you to feel in their tone, rhythm, movement. It doesn't even have to be good. Focusing on these aspects of performance in the reading is something you don't get simply by reading someone else's work. I find myself focusing so much on craft when I read, that I almost forget the art. Hearing it come to life through the writer herself I can hear the art. I can see it. Which in turn always ends up inspiring me to create art where I had previously felt my passion for it draining.
So, for anyone feeling uninspired or in a rut of not writing I would encourage you to find a reading or open mic in your area. In listening to everyone share and speak their truth, you may just find yours.
Beginning a career in the publishing industry can be difficult because there seems to be a thousand different paths to go down. But that is really what makes the publishing industry so awesomely unique. In my last semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about to have a degree in English Literature, I had a tough decision to make. I had no idea how to break into the industry. Where would I even start? So, I researched entry points.
I had to decide if I wanted to find an unpaid internship or attend a summer course to earn a publishing certificate. Publishing certificate programs are different than earning a master's degree in publishing. One of the most well known programs is NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. It is a six-week program held over the summer. The goal of this program is to teach the students about all the different aspects of publishing as well as give many opportunities for networking with other publishing professionals. The NYU website states that in their program, “Students create actual launch plans for new magazine brands and imprints for book publishing houses, and learn from having their projects judged by a panel of senior publishing executives.” The program costs a little over $5,000. Other similar programs exist at Columbia University and the Denver Publishing Institute. The point of these programs is to give you the experience you would need to succeed in a full time job in the publishing industry as well as the networking opportunities to meet the people who can help you get the job. This experience seems ideal; I just lacked the money and time to go and do it.
The other option is to take on an internship for a publishing house or journal where you learn about the industry in a real life setting. Most of these positions are paid little to no money. Some offer academic credit for college students, but what you are really gaining from these positions is experience. Most full time job openings ask that the candidates they are considering have at least one year of experience in a professional publishing environment. Getting hands on, real life experience is one of the best ways to learn. Many of these internships can also lead to full time jobs depending on the situation. And even if it doesn’t, it is still a great way to meet other publishing professionals and network. You can also do multiple part time internships in different positions. You can work on an academic journal, literary journal, trade publisher, or educational publisher. I have had the opportunity to be a part of a few different publications and feel that the internships have given me a well-rounded education in the publishing industry.
Publishing programs and internships are both great ways to gain valuable experience in publishing. They are also things that employers look for on a résumé that would put you above other candidates. Either route you take, you can still end up where you want to be if you are determined.
A lot of hullaballoo is made about the process of writing. What’s the best way to generate ideas? Should you free write or outline? How long should you write each day? Where should you write? What should you wear while you write? Writers are almost as superstitious as baseball players are. Famous writers are constantly being asked about their process, to share the keys to their success and offer any piece of advice, any rule to follow (see this, this, and this). Personally, I see the value in a routine—it keeps you on track, forces you to actually write something, prevents distraction—but I also see the value in breaking a routine—the thrill of inspiration, the little light bulb moment that comes when your world shifts away from normal and jostles you awake.
In my world, order and mess go hand in hand. Which is why I am forever caught up in the ultimate writing routine question: pen vs. keyboard, paper vs. screen, handwritten vs. typed. I have terrible handwriting and it gets worse the faster I think so the aesthetic beauty of a handwritten page, the grace of putting pen to paper, is lost on me and my loopy cursive/print hybrid. I find myself plunged into the computer writing world of online distractions and trains of thought interrupted by the immediate ease of editing as I go. The pro/cons lists in this debate are endless and so are the routines. Some writers write all first drafts by hand and only type things up during the editing process. Others type up first and then print and edit by hand. Computers are distracting; they come with internet and twitter and quizzes about which clone you are on Orphan Black (No? Just me?). Writing by hand is more pure, a flow of words from thoughts to page that breeds creativity and freedom of expression. On the other hand, computers are convenient, they allow you to organize and compile in a way that becomes tedious with papers and scratched out notes.
What I’m saying is this: using computers to write is a much-debated personal preference, the various sides of which I am well aware. This article is not meant to tell you how to write, or that you must use a computer. Only that, currently, we’ve come to a point where all writers must go digital at some point. Slowly, but surely, submissions processes are turning online only. Whether you wait to the last minute to type up a manuscript or use a computer through the entire process, in the end it must be typed. Which, let's be honest, can be scary and frustrating and time consuming.
So to ease the process, I’ve compiled a list of practical computer tips and tricks to help a writer out. I focused on tools in Microsoft Word, since that’s what most people use as a word processing program. Also, as I am a writer and not a computer genius, I’ve chosen to explain why these tools could be helpful to writers and leave it up to the whizzes at Microsoft Word to show you how to use them (links for everyone!).
You may know some of the obvious shortcuts like CTRL+x, CTRL+c, and CTRL+v for cut, copy, and paste. Those can make moving around sentences a lot faster and simpler. There are also a few others that can make life easier for speedy writers. CTRL+b, CTRL+i, and CTR+i allow you to make highlighted text bolded, underlined, or italicized. Another extremely useful shortcut is SHIFT+F5, which returns you to the last edit point in a document. That way, if you are working in a large document with several chapters and close the document for a lunch break, when you re-open the document later, you can hit SHIFT+F5 to return to the specific paragraph you were editing. Also, a good one to remember: CTRL+S to save your document. That’s definitely a good shortcut to turn into an obsessive habit.
See this for a complete list of shortcuts.
Find and Replace
Find and Replace can be helpful to writers in a lot of different ways. You can use the CTRL+F shortcut to search a document for a specific word or phrase. This is especially useful in large documents for finding a specific character description or fact. You can open the advanced Find and Replace dialogue box to not only search for a word or character name, but also replace every use of that word with another. This is great for when you decide Fred is a terrible character name and you want to change all instances of Fred to Roger. You can also use this to replace specific formatting like paragraph breaks or page breaks. If you are particularly concerned with efficiency, you can write character or place names or common phrases in shorthand and then use Find and Replace to change the shorthand to the full-length phrase. You can even use Find to search for bookmarks you’ve placed within a document (see below for more on bookmarks).
See this for more information on Find and Replace.
Custom Dictionary/ Spelling and Grammar Check
Hate those squiggly colorful lines that show up everywhere? Tired of all your character names being marked as misspelled? Then, it's time to customize your dictionary. You can add any word you want to your dictionary, especially character names, place names, and technological jargon.
Another great trick to make you look especially professional is to customize your Spelling and Grammar check in accordance with a specific style guide (AP, Chicago, MLA etc.). You can specify what changes should be auto-corrected as you type, allowing you to determine stylistic choices, such as whether to use curved or straight quotation marks.
See this for custom dictionaries and this for Spelling and Grammar check.
Split a Document
This magical tool allows you to view two copies of one document at the same time. It’s an excellent way to edit a paragraph while keeping a copy of the original one for comparison as you edit. Splitting the document is also a great way to keep things consistent in your writing; you can view a description of a character on page 12 while you write more about the same character on page 103. You can use the View menu to split the document or the shortcut ALT+CTRL+S to split and unsplit. When you split, just click inside one version of the document to make edits to that copy. When you undo the split, however, all changes will be merged so the original sentence or paragraph will not be saved, but the changes you made to each version will be saved.
See this for more information.
In the throes of writing and editing, I often end up with multiple versions of the same document: KickAssStory, KickAssStory2, KickAssStoryFinal, KickAssStory3good. Often, I save an older version in case I change my mind about deleting a whole page of dialogue or switching the point of view for the whole story. With this trick, you can compare these different documents and see exactly what makes them different via track changes. Great for returning to a story you haven’t worked on in a while, it allows you to revisit some of the changes you made, or just figure out which document really is the final one. After you compare the documents, you can also merge them into one document and choose which changes you want to make.
Formatting: Headings, Page Breaks, Tables of Content, Bookmarks
Using real grown-up formatting can make your document infinitely easier to navigate and your future editors will love you forever. No more hitting return over and over again to start a new page or chapter. Add a page break! Set up your title page and Chapter titles as headings. If you like to work with each chapter in a different document, you can make your own custom “style” of how the page is formatted to keep things uniform and make them a lot easier to combine later (style can include heading and texts, but also page numbers and header and footer information). If you do like to keep it all in one document, when you add a new chapter, you can also add a bookmark to that page, which can then be linked to your table of content so that it works like a real big-girl, clickable table of content. You can also view all the bookmarks you have in one document at once, which helps with navigating.
See all the links: this, this, this, this, and this.
Mail merge will soon become your dearest friend. I first learned of the glories of mail merge when I worked for a non-profit and now I will never go back to my pre-mail merge life. You can make customized envelopes! That’s classy as fuck. It’s also extremely useful for sending out query letters and manuscripts to a lot of different places. Plop the names and contact information for all your addressees into an excel spreadsheet and then mail merge away. You can make custom envelopes, labels, letters, and even emails. If you are as addicted to Gmail as I am, you can also get the Yet Another Mail Merge add on for Google docs, which will allow you to send custom emails with your manuscript attached without copying and pasting a million times.
See this for the whole mail merge process and this for how to get Yet Another Mail Merge.
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In 1997, Harry Potter pulled the heartstrings of American readers, engaging them in a fantasy world of magic and strife. In 1851, Captain Ahab took readers on a deadly journey to seek the great white whale. In 1630, Othello lead the way through a tangle of jealously and murder. Each character is undeniably memorable, and each character is arguably flat.
In his work Aspects of the Novel (1927), E.M. Forster discusses two character types: round and flat. A round character is similar to an actual person; they have depth and more than one thing that defines his/her identity. On the other hand, a flat character is less dynamic with only one defining personality trait causing the reader not to be challenged when deciding the motives behind the character’s actions. Each type of character affects a narrative different, but each type of character is still very important. Being a flat character does not mean they are a minor character. Whether you are reading or writing a book, looking into what makes up a character is engaging, meaningful and useful.
While it’s super fun to convince yourself that you understand the subject better than your teacher does, I’m here to bring you some bad news: the curtains are almost never just fucking blue.
The average reader does not care about why the curtains are blue. Similar to the average movie-goer, they are there to be entertained. They want to be immersed in a story for a while, and that’s all. The average moviegoer has no idea what goes into creating a film, and it doesn’t matter to them. The story affects them, and that’s all that’s important. However, if the moviegoer takes a class on film or bothers to study it at all, they will learn about things like mise-en-scene and the uses of different camera shots, angles, lighting, etc. They will learn how each of those things affects how the story reaches the viewer. They will learn that the things they feel while watching a movie aren’t simply reactions to the basic plot. Their emotional responses come from all those little things that we don’t even notice while we’re so involved with the story.
It’s the same with literature. If you are the average reader, there is no reason for you to concern yourself with why the curtains are blue. In fact, J.D. Salinger probably loves you. The dedication of his book, Raise High on the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction says, “If there is an amateur reader still left in the world—or anybody who just reads and runs—I ask him or her, with untellable affection and gratitude, to split the dedication of this book four ways with my wife and children.” There is nothing wrong with being a person who “reads and runs,” but understand that your English teacher is not one of those people. Your English teacher has studied literature for years. She has made it her business to learn and understand all of the choices authors make and how those choices affect readers. She knows that every single word in a work is chosen carefully. Each sentence is intentionally crafted to evoke the desired response in the reader, which is why we bother to study things like symbolism, imagery, allusions, diction, syntax, alliteration, assonance, consonance, sibilance, etc. All of these things serve a purpose, whether you are conscious of them or not, and if the author has bothered to mention what color the curtains are, you had better believe that there is a reason. You are in a class in which it is your teacher’s job to teach you these things so listen to her and learn something.
The coffee is stale and cold. The desk is littered with marked up papers, red pens, half eaten food, and a not so structurally sound tower of books. After hours of writing, finally the first line has the possibility of perfection. Every writer has been in that same situation: struggling to tame an inspiring idea.
How does one make an abstract idea that is floating around in their mind into concrete words on paper (or unfortunately, in the modern age, type on screen)? The answer is, they have work at it.
Somewhere in time a fable was created: writing comes naturally to a writer. This assumption is a problem that undermines the creative process. This assumption adds to a writer’s self-doubt: if I am struggling this much, am I actually a writer?
How does one deal with self-doubt and struggles? Look for advice from the art form’s masters:
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
The best writers experienced the struggle. Humans are not horses; we are not born walking. It is through the progression of time that walking becomes so easy that it appears to be natural. Even after years and years of practice, writing well, like walking, is not innately natural. But a great writer can make it appear to be natural.
To learn one must first fail. To write one never stops learning. It’s harsh, but it’s the world. To write you must have the courage to fail, and the passion to keep perusing when you do.
Our job is literature and our passion is too. We want to hear from you and ask you to share your stories with us in the comments below. Do you start at the beginning or the climax? Do you first develop the characters or the setting? Do you outline or just write? Do you begin in the morning or at night? How do you get out of a writing rut?
Be courageous; dump that stale coffee sitting next to you. Brew a fresh pot coffee and begin the process again: read, write, edit.
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I struggle with a lot of things when it comes to writing. Finances, ideas, stamina. Should I quit my job at this coffee shop, or is it what motivates me to write? But I think one of the main things I struggle with is somewhat of an existential crisis, mainly, “What is the POINT?”
I recently started a job at a bookstore (which I love) and I quickly learned that everyone I work with is a writer, studying to be a writer, graduated undergrad with a degree in Creative Writing, etc. In these moments I struggle to be a writer because everyone's a writer and what's the difference, really? Is there a need for my writing? If everyone is a writer, is anyone REALLY a writer? I don't have a book deal, I've been published, but just in some smaller literary journals, overall my audience is very small. Who am I writing to? Am I shouting into a void only to have that void echo back that there are hundreds, if not thousands of others just like me?
In moments when my thoughts spiral downward this way I've realized that it's important to stop and reaffirm myself as an individual and a writer. I assume that others have this thought process at times—especially if you are a newer writer, definitely if you have yet to get published or have faced a particularly long stream of rejections. We all face doubts and sometimes it can be difficult to stop questioning yourself and the worth of your writing. So here are some of the things I tell myself when I start down that self-destructive road. I like to say them like a mantra, one right after another.
1. I am a writer.
2. No one else is me, and that's why my writing matters.
3. Everyone's voice is valid. The more writers there are the better.
4. Each person has a unique life and perspective and this is all we can offer each other, but it's important to share these life experiences in any way that you can.
5. If I stopped writing or stopped trying to share my writing I'd be considerably less happy.
6. If one person reads my stories and is moved, I have succeeded more than I ever thought possible.
It can be a battle to insist that your writing and persepectives on life are worth anyone else's time. Especially when it seems that there are enough people out there who share in your struggle to be a writer. But that's all it is—a shared struggle. It's not a reason to stop trying.
Just like art, which finds different mediums and different meanings for each person, generating ideas for a written piece can be varied. While some people consider contemporary art forms to be more of an eyesore than actual art, many people today would rather go to the local contemporary museum than an old building featuring pieces older than their great, great, great grandmother does.
In the same way, one way of generating an idea may produce little result for one person while the same method may have another writer overflowing with ideas. This just proves that we as humans are all created differently; different tools produce different results for each of us. With that being said, I want to explore one method that has continuously, and sometimes painfully worked for me: stream of conscious writing.
When taken literally, stream of conscious writing is just that: your conscious thoughts streaming out of your head and down onto the paper. When your third grade teacher told you that you had to write for seven minutes without picking up your pencil, you probably just wrote, “I don’t care, this is stupid, why do I have to do this? I’d rather be doing anything else than this, like going on a roller coaster, or eating pizza, or maybe even both at once. What if they let you eat pizza on a roller coaster? They would have to invent something so that all the toppings wouldn’t fly off when you went down the hill…” and boom, your teacher just forced you to write in stream of conscious and you have created the next step in the evolution of theme parks. Who knew third grade could be so valuable in later life?
As a kid, it seems fun to write out the stupidest things that you can, just to fulfill the continuous writing requirement of the exercise. As adults, trying to continually write is a far more difficult challenge. We seem to have developed an internal voice along the way that says “wow, why would you even say that?” or “what kind of stupid idea is that!?” and suddenly the pencil stops and you're stuck on how bad a writer you are. This voice needs to be turned off, and fast, if this method for generating ideas is going to have any type of success. The point of stream of conscious writing is to create a flow of words and ideas, even if they have to be forced at first and even if they seem silly.
You are not trying to write the next literary masterpiece on your scrap piece of paper, and don’t even expect yourself to, because that’s just setting yourself up for failure. This kind of writing offers you the most freedom, so use it to be creative rather than box yourself in with expectations. You could use only bullet points, doodle sketches, don’t even write in the lines, or even a combination of all three! This is the one space where there are no rules, and you are writing for you and only you.
There comes a time in this process when you have written and written and in a moment, it clicks. All of a sudden, it becomes impossible to put your pen down for fear of not writing down one of the brilliant thoughts that are now flowing endlessly. Our minds have become so used to beginning to work when we are holding something in our writing hand (thanks for that habit, grade school!) but in this case, the movement seems to act as a trigger for our mind. It is a beautiful thing when you go from zero to 100 thoughts a second!
For a frustratingly good example of stream of conscious writing, pick up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road: The Original Scroll. It is a grammar stickler’s nightmare, but Kerouac is never hindered by the conventions of chapter breaks or even paragraph indentations. These normal rules hinder the true flow of his mind, because humans don’t think in paragraphs and chapters. The whole book is just like reading a print out of his brain, and it’s extraordinary.
No one is saying that your piece has to completely ignore every single rule and convention of proper English style guides, but this method can give you clues as to how you think. Sometimes writing about whatever pops into your mind can lead to great ideas, and sometimes not, but you should never discount an idea right after it forms. Take time to write it out and then decide whether it is worth pursuing. This is a great way to form multiple ideas as well. I once began an idea generating session by writing out the words “I have no idea what to write about, but I know I want to write about something,” and after about 30 minutes, I had three full pages of an idea written out. I could track my process and then later go back and add details or edit my initial ideas, but it was all there on the page.
This form of writing can be frustrating or scary, because sometimes nothing comes, and then when it does, it sounds awful. My advice is to write about anything and everything you can think of: how your day has been, describe the room you are in, what is it about your best friend that you like so much? Also, don’t be discouraged if you seem to be at a loss, great works don’t happen overnight. If every writer were judged on their beginning ideas, the world would have a lot less books, so don’t be afraid to try out all of your crazy or seemingly boring ideas, and let those words flow!
I hope you will be surprised as to where your own unleashed thoughts can lead you!
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek stated, "For me science fiction is a way of thinking, a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense. It allows people to look directly at important subjects." Science fiction is an expansive genre that explores the impact of imagined or actual science on society (Merriam Webster). A platform inspires curiosity through stories that demonstrate what could be created and what could become of society. Unfounded technological advances displayed in literary and visual mediums are responsible for the advances in technology and culture in modern society. Authors such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Ray Bradbury imagined tools and predicted changes in society that have become truths. Furthermore, Star Trek and Star Wars inspired experts in the science industry to turn fantasy into reality. Fields like communication, entertainment, space travel, and transportation expanded drastically due to the science fiction genre. In addition, the culture of society has been indirectly influenced, as well. Science fiction has walked off the pages and out of the screen to influence the progression of society culturally and technologically.
Science fiction is responsible for aiding in positive changes in the culture of modern society. For example, racial tension was relieved during the Civil Rights movement with the help of Star Trek and Martin Luther King Jr. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols considered quitting the show but Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay because it set African Americans equal with Caucasians, plus it was the first non-stereotypical role given to an African American actor (Soylent Communications). Setting African Americans equal to Caucasians in a widely recognizable television show proved to society (one that was confused with racial matters) that equality is best way for harmonious interpersonal relationships on all levels.
Of all of the parts of society, the field of technology is the most impacted by science fiction. Multiple fields including communication, home entertainment, space travel, and transportation are improved because of the fantastical ideas presented in the science fiction genre. Communication increased mobility and efficiency with the invention of the cellular telephone. The cell phone is credited to the "communicator" that was used in the television series Star Trek. The communicator allowed Captain Kirk to wirelessly contact other starships throughout the galaxy. The inventor of cell phones, Martin Cooper credits Star Trek as the major source of inspiration while developing the new technology (Lawinski). The cellular phone enables people to stay in touch regularly and it is considered the must have tool of modern society. Moreover, the cell phone is surpassing the amount of landlines, which indicates that it is a very influential piece of equipment (Associated Press). The expansion of communication is only one of the many fields that have been directly impacted by science fiction.
In addition to communication being impacted by science fiction, the use of home entertainment became a major pastime in society. Big screen televisions and interactive games were present in Ray Bradbury's dystopic Fahrenheit 451. The people in Fahrenheit 451 were entertained in the "parlor" that was surrounded by large screens on the walls, much like the big screen televisions that are found in many American homes today. Television is a method that people use to zone out, unlike books, which are reliant on the person's mind to comprehend. In Fahrenheit 451 the characters relate books as controllable mediums and television (any electronic entertainment, too) as a tool that engulfs oneself until time itself is forgotten (Bradbury 119). A deep look at modern society would indicate that the dystopia that Bradbury predicted in his novel is rapidly proving itself. Unfortunately, the impact of science fiction on tools such as cell phones, computers, video games, and televisions negatively influences society's desire to invest time in reading and other mind requiring activities. As the technology increases, the human's ability to do less work it also decreases the ability for society to improve on an intellectual level (Associated Press). Home entertainment's influence on society seems minute when considering science fictions impact on space travel and transportation.
Two main components that contribute to the well-being of society (and perhaps curiosity), space travel and methods of transportation are heavily influenced by science fiction books and movies. Space travel is an important technology to harvest and was influenced by all forms of science fiction. For example, George Melies "A Trip to the Moon," a small film about traveling to the moon inspired today's engineers to create ships that can indeed travel to the moon. Society's longing for knowing more about the universe used movies such as this to spark space wars(who can achieve space travel first) between countries. Much of the influence on space travel stems from the curiosity that many science fiction books and movies instilled in the society's elite minds. It seems to be just fiction, but the question 'could it be true' lingers in the industry. Moreover, it is important that society investigate space, especially in an era in which the health of the planet is dwindling rapidly. Star Trek made its stamp on space travel as well when NASA named a shuttle Enterprise after the well-known starship on the popular television show (Dumoulin). It seems as though science fiction influences the creation of innovative technology, as well as inspires future innovators to push passed the limits of it too.
Furthermore, science fiction has made a mark on methods of transportation, whether they are for land or sea. Submarines made their way into the world well before science fiction had described them, but it was Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that inspired efficient submarines that could be effective tools during war. The imagination of Verne's' Nautilus would be the beginning of the modern submarine. Besides submarines, electric cars came about through the works of the famous Star Wars saga. On the planets featured in the Star Wars movies, the vehicles are powered by solar energy and electric currents much like the cars that are popping up in the automotive market today(Lawinski). In Star Wars Episode One, Anakin drives a vehicle powered by hydrogen cells (claims George Lucas) and withing three years of that movie making its way into the theater, several automotive brands began selling electric cars. This is no coincidence. Jennifer Lawinksi claims that the automotive industry briefly looked into electric cars until they had a visual of what one may look like if it were to be made a reality (obviously, Star Wars was much different looking). Electric cars are the next step in reducing global warming, therefore it can be concluded that science fiction is moving society in a positive direction.
The use of science fiction as a manual of the technological and cultural advances in society is a brave pathway to take. Many advanced technologies stem from the imaginative realms created by creative authors and filmmakers in the science fiction realm. The enhancement of communication, space travel, and transportation is beneficial to making those within the society well connected and informed. Moreover, it is exciting to watch fantastical ideas turn into tangible realities. However, large amounts of hi-tech inventions could stall the progression of humanity at an intellectual level. The entertainment field could lure people into its visually stimulating environment and cause a decrease in the want to learn. Science fiction is fiction, but it does have its way of finding itself coming out of the pages and into our hands.
Thanks to our stunning author Ani Manjikian, we were able to read about five up and coming magazines that you should submit to this year. We didn't write it, but we would love to share it with you:
"Small and independent magazines are the lifeblood of the literary scene, providing many emerging writers with their first chance to have their work published. Here are five new literary magazines accepting submissions this August."
You can read the article HERE
Writing a great blog post has more to do with planning and editing, and less to do with punching out a fantastic idea. When I began blogging several years ago, many of my pots fell flat -- bam, boom, dead. They had maybe one reader. Why? The idea was solid, but the execution was poor.
Writing a blog serves to inform and intrigue readers. At least, for me it is. Some blog posts are purely informative; others seek to twist the reader -- fuel passion, or insight creativity in my readers. A careful balance is required to succeed. Blog posts require several planning points to succeed:
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